Top 5 Things to Note When Switching Over to Google Analytics 4


Top 5 Things to Note When Switching Over to Google Analytics 4

Earlier this year, Google announced it will sunset Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023, and sunset Universal Analytics 360 on July 1, 2024. Every website currently using a Universal Analytics account will need to transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) before the platform is retired for good.

Introduced in 2019, GA4 is an advanced cookie-less tracking platform designed with both privacy and modern cross-device user journeys in mind. With its push to the mainstage, Google seeks widespread adoption of GA4 and believes it will (ultimately) provide more meaningful data insights to the end user.

But making the necessary switch to the new GA4 standard does come with a learning curve. Whether you’ve spent the past decade as a Universal Analytics power user or are just accustomed to the old interface, GA4’s out-of-the-box functionality may not feel as welcoming as the outgoing platform.

With the switch fast approaching, here are five details to keep in mind as you begin your migration to Google Analytics 4.

1. Custom Channel Grouping is Missing

Currently, the new Google Analytics 4 platform does not allow users to create custom channel groupings. You can still see data from your marketing channel through several different referrers. The new default channel definitions can be found here.

To view your specific traffic sources, a free-form exploration report now needs to be created within GA4. Creating this report allows you to visualize traffic from specific sources without applying segments and filters every time.

At the time of this article’s publication, Google has announced its intention to ultimately include improvements to default channel groupings as well as offer flexibility for custom groupings.

2. BigQuery Isn’t Just for GA360 Anymore

If you’ve used BigQuery with Universal Analytics in the past, rejoice: All GA4 property owners can now export data to BigQuery. Previously, this functionality was only made available to enterprise-level Google Analytics 360 (GA360) clients.

This change, however, is accompanied by an adjusted length of time for data retention, and this length of time differs between the free and enterprise GA4 versions. With the free version, the maximum retention period is now only 14 months. Enterprise clients will have the ability to gain access to an extended range of data retention.

By integrating BigQuery for data exports, we are able to protect our client’s historical data. This provides our clients with a longer chain of data to inform and evolve their marketing strategies.

3. Event-based Data Modeling

Perhaps the most significant shift from Universal Analytics, everything in GA4 is now tracked as an event. For marketing teams that have long looked toward sessions and pageviews to inform certain tactics, this can create a lot of headaches.

Our team realized early on the challenges that this change brings. For instance, conversion reporting that once relied on Event Category, Event Action, and Event Label (CAL) parameters must be rebuilt for PPC and SEO. While Google may reintroduce these parameters in the future, our team has changed CAL into events as custom parameters for the current GA4 environment.

4. Google Upgraded Audiences

With the arrival of GA4, the audience feature have evolved into a broader experience. With audiences, you have several attributes to select from as you set up your audience parameters. Google has a selection of pre-made templates to help smaller teams that might not have the time to build out their own custom audience.

Google has also added a new type of suggested audience called Predictive Audiences. This new audience type is based solely on predictive metrics. Implementing Predictive Audiences can prove useful for re-targeting and re-engagement campaigns. Based on a user’s previous actions, predictive audiences will differentiate the offer that the user will see. This resource can get the campaign message that fits that user the best for a higher chance of conversion.

While Google’s pre-made templates are great, you will likely need to create custom audiences to derive deeper insights from your analytics data. Having a set of custom audiences can help your team better understand your site traffic as well as your user data. Your team can use this data from custom audiences to remarket to people, adjust your ads based on interaction, and create similar audiences to help strengthen your conversions.

5. Data Reporting

Many of the changes ushered in by Google Analytics 4 have a significant impact on traditional reporting.

For example, Universal Analytics devotees often look to Bounce Rate as a meaningful signifier of positive or negative user engagement. With the shift to Google Analytics 4, Bounce Rate is now a thing of the past.

GA4 replaces the Bounce Rate metric with Engaged Sessions. An Engaged Session is defined as a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, drives the visitor to view two or more pages, or generates a Conversion Event. Think of it as a positive spin on a normally pessimistic data point.

As our team was switching over clients to GA4, we had to adapt to such major modifications. BrainDo had to custom-build many of the reporting features within GA4 that exist in out-of-the-box Universal Analytics. Although this required additional setup work, these custom solutions helped ensure that our clients could still receive the precise information they needed. The new custom reports built by BrainDo gave our clients a better understanding of how to properly allocate their marketing time and spending.

As GA4 continues to receive regular updates, Google has since provided an easier solution for customization. In November 2022, Google Analytics announced it will roll out an update to enable implementation of custom dimensions and metrics within the platform. While this functionality has historically proven beneficial, BrainDo will continue to test our custom reporting features against those provided by Google. By comparison testing these two methods, we can ensure our clients receive the comprehensive insights they need.

Configuring Out-of-the-Box GA4 for Your Tracking Needs

Although Google Analytics 4 continues to announce new features and updates, it is not quite the out-of-the-box solution that its predecessor was. To limit potential migration migraines, the BrainDo Analytics team has been working tirelessly to build out best-in-class GA4 configurations for our clients.

With each client we shift over to GA4 accounts, we uncover old features no longer included in the new system and develop creative solutions to present vital data points. These analytics transitions can be a challenge, but we hope that our team’s insights are able to help make your GA4 transition easier.

Have any questions about Google Analytics 4? Would you like to learn more about how BrainDo can help with your GA4 transition? Contact the BrainDo team here for more information.